To my beautiful friends, amazing family, and the iconic volunteers who have given hours of their time.
Four years ago, as a sophomore in High School, I began one of the most fulfilling journey’s of my entire life. What started as a visionary project in a smelly dorm room at my boarding school ended up bringing me across Pennsylvania and connecting me with droves of activist all across the world.
I discovered something quite alarming at that boarding school. In our country, sexually transmitted infections are rising at record rates, especially among teenagers. All the while, our public schools refused to teach age-appropriate, evidence-based, factually accurate, and inclusive sex education.
In fact, they actively teach the opposite. The majority of public schools across the nation teach abstinence only or abstinence based sex education. This is a curriculum that has scientifically shown to be a contributor to increasing rates of STIs. Instead of giving young people the tools needed to stay happy, safe, and healthy, we lie and scare them away from anything sexually centered.
What started as a visionary project in a smelly dorm room at my boarding school ended up bringing me across Pennsylvania and connecting me with droves of activist all across the world.
This is truly an issue that effects everyone, but it hits even closer to home. As a gay man I know the toll these exclusive models have on the LGBTQ+ community. The heteronormativity embedded in factually inaccurate and biased sex ed curriculums harms both the mental and physical health of queer people.
So I set out to change the legislation here in PA and bring awareness nationwide–quite an ambitious goal for a 16 year old.
First, I needed funding. But who would give a 16 year old money to change laws about sex education? Turns out my friends, family, and mysterious internet supporters had my back. Together we raised close to $3000 to jumpstart my vision.
Over the past 4 years we have done amazing things. Here are a few highlights:
- Marched in Philadelphia’s PRIDE Parade and attended dozens of other PRIDE events like OutFest, Allentown’s Pride in the Park, NYC Pride, etc.
- Gathered hundreds and hundreds of signatures in support of changing the legislation.
- Joined forces with the likes of Cosmo, Bustle, Vice, local news agencies, and more to spread the word about how our public school system is failing our youth and contributing to a public health crisis.
- Took our message to the TED stage for my first public talk explaining that comprehensive sex education has scientifically been proven to reduce STI rates and unintended pregnancies.
- Connected across state lines to share our strategies with likeminded grassroots organizations in places like California, Georgia, New York, Virginia, and more.
- Reached hundreds of thousands of online impressions through our social media outreach.
- And most importantly: changed the minds of countless skeptics.
It is truly impossible to explain how proud I am of our work to create this kind of impact. Let me remind you, we had no experience, no degrees, and limited funding. We were just a bunch of young activist who saw something that needed to be changed.
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to deliver this news to you tonight. Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education will be ending our work in an official capacity. The organization unfortunately cannot sustain itself for any longer with a lack of funding and institutional support. As a full time nursing student at the University of Pennsylvania, I can no longer lead Keystone in an efficient way. It has hard to admit this to myself, but I know this is the right thing to do for this moment.
We were just a bunch of young activist who saw something that needed to be changed.
While today signifies the ending of Keystone CASE, it does not signify the end of this critical work that needs to be done. We still need our legislation changed here in PA and across the nation. We still need evidence-based solutions to combat the public health crisis of sexually transmitted infections.
I am in NO WAY leaving this fight. In fact, moving on from Keystone CASE will allow me to work in other ways that can have a bigger impact. As a nurse, I’m learning the clinical approach to sexually transmitted infections and can meld this with my strong background in advocacy and grassroots organizing for our future fights.
Our website will remain active for all who want to model future projects after what we created. Our sample legislation will continue to be available for anyone who is critically thinking about this issue. The Facebook will be shifting to a way for supporters to stay up-to-date with continued action on issues related to LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive and sexual health. Myself and volunteers will continue to advocate for comprehensive sex education in our own ways outside of this organization.
As for my next steps: In January, I will be starting a new job with the Philadelphia Department of Health in the chlamydia and gonorrhea surveillance unit. I will be returning to my roots as a political opinion writer and continuing my journey in nursing school. I cannot wait to share with you my knowledge and experience. When I graduate, my education will position me to start my dream career as an activist nurse.
Over the past few years I’ve learned how bright our future is through my connections with youth activists across the country. We will create the change needed in this country if we stand together and say loudly, “enough is enough.”
Let’s start this new chapter together,
Founder of Keystone Coalition for Advancing Sex Education